Tips & more

Quick guide to using iPhone as e-reader

If you buy an item via this post, we may get a small affiliate fee. Details.

Reading on the #iPhone - quick guide

You don’t have to buy an iPad or a dedicated ebook reading device to read ebooks. Your iPhone is more than enough for that purpose.

In this post I’ll share usage tips to get you started and explore flexibility the iPhone adds to reading experience.

Why iPhone and why not iPad? Sometimes iPad is just one device too much. It’s the smartphone that you always keep. This gives you the chance to instantly read books at any time and place you want – even if you haven’t planned it.

Reading on the iPhone in a subway or while waiting for a bus can seriously increase the amount of time you devote to book reading. Just like a habit (conditioned reflex?) of checking out Twitter app, you can reach for the iPhone to open a book reading app, even if you’ve got only a couple of spare minutes.

iPhone offers reading versatility of the tablet. The only issue you may have is the size. It’s not the issue for me. iPhone screen in a portrait position has the width of a newspaper column. Do you have a problem with that size while reading a print edition of The New York Times?

What’s more, in any book reading application you can make the font bigger, much bigger, than in The New York Times. And much bigger than in a Facebook app. If you don’t have a problem reading Facebook status updates or comments why should you have it in a book reading application?

In an interview for The New York Times in early 2008, Steve Jobs said that “people don’t read any more”. Ironically, it was the iPhone to show up as a surprisingly good ebook reading device. Why not giving it a try? Below you’ll find tips and tricks to make the most of it.

Pick up the apps that fit your needs

iBooks is Apple’s own e-reading application, but it’s not obligatory to use it. You can use other apps, too, you don’t have to limit yourself to a single app. It’s one of the most prominent advantages multi-purpose tablets and smartphones have over dedicated e-readers.

Use a combination of apps that fit your needs most

Use Kindle for iOS app and you’ll turn your iPhone into Kindle e-reader. Use Nook, or Kobo, or Google Play Books, and make your iPhone an e-reading device connected with your favorite ebookstore. Or use a combination of a few apps that fit your needs most.

There are two kinds of book apps in the iTunes AppStore:

  • book readers,
  • standalone books.

Book readers

Book readers let not only read, but also manage a collection of books you added. Many popular ebookstores have their own book reading apps for iPhone.

Kindle vs Kobo apps for iPhone

Virtual bookshelf in Kindle (left) and Kobo (right)

If you are an Amazon customer you can download Kindle application. You can read in this app books bought in the Kindle Store, or added in a compatible file format. Same with Kobo, Nook, or Sony. If you don’t want to sign up to any new service to start reading ebooks, you can pick up other apps.

One of them is Google Play Books. All you need is a Gmail account. You can add books via Google Play Books site that’s associated with your Gmail, to get them delivered to your iPhone.

Most iPhone apps support epub and pdf file format. Only two apps can open mobi/prc files: Kindle and eBookMobi.

iPhone is a great device to test e-reading applications

iPhone, with an access to the web, is actually a great device to test e-reading applications. You can play with each one while having a couple of minutes of spare time.

Standalone books

The other kind of e-reading applications in the iTunes AppStore is standalone book apps. They are single books with extra features, usually letting you read books in an enhanced way.

If you are looking for a rich-media cookbook or an interactive children’s book, you can find a relevant book app in the iTunes AppStore, not only in the Book category.

One of the most wonderful standalone book apps for iPhone is The Silent History – a groundbreaking novel that uses serialization, exploration, and collaboration to tell the story of a generation of unusual children.

The Silent History

The Silent History

Having a Kindle or Kobo e-reader is like using one reading app. You can only benefit from what it offers and nothing else. If you need more flexibility, use the iPhone and adjust the way you read to your current task or mood.

Add your own books

Once you install a book reading app on the iPhone, you can easily add your own books to it. Some ebookstores (Kindle, Kobo, Nook) offer book-syncing via their cloud library, but you can add books directly to the device, as well.

There are generally three ways to add own books and personal docs to book reading iOS apps.

Adding own books to iPhone book app

1. Open an email attachment

One method is to send an email to yourself and open it in a native Mail app on the iPhone. Tap on an attachment and you should see a dialog box Open with…. Select the app you want to use and it will open immediately with a book already loaded.

2. Use cloud service app

The other popular way is to use Dropbox, Google Drive, or any other cloud service that has an iPhone application. You can upload the book on your computer and find it in a Dropbox app. When you tap on a file, Dropbox will ask you to pick the app.

3. Use Safari to open file from url address

Some ebook sites (Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, Feedbooks are the best ones) have tailored their interfaces to mobile devices, and on top of that they have clear url addresses of ebook files.

Thanks to that you can easily access and browse these sites directly from your iPhone’s Safari. When you tap on a link to a particular file format, you will be given a list of applications that can open the file.

Discover and buy ebooks with your iPhone

Due to Apple’s policy of getting a considerable chunk of in-app purchases for themselves, most reading apps don’t offer store browsing within their apps.

The one and only book reading application that is fully connected with an ebookstore is iBooks. You can search iBooks Store seamlessly and add books directly to your iBooks library without any hassle. If you are mostly interested in buying convenience, iBooks is the option to choose.

If you don’t like iBooks/iBooks Store ecosystem, you can still buy ebooks with your iPhone – that means there is no need to use a computer to do that – and that means you can buy ebooks on the go.

Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer mobile versions of their sites. This is what makes buying ebooks with your iPhone possible.

Amazon’s mobile interface includes 1-Click option. It means that when you buy a book in Safari browser, and set up iPhone as a device to deliver it, you will be able to open the new item immediately after you switch to the Kindle application.

Kindle Store mobile site

If you are a heavy user of your e-reading site, you can add it as a homescreen button to your iPhone. Here is how to do that.

A great way to discover ebooks is Twitter. You can follow accounts of Amazon Kindle or Project Gutenberg, and if you open a link in the Safari browser you should be able to purchase the book, or download it without switching the device.

Using an e-reading app on the iPhone is actually a good way to buy ebooks on the go, and not pay extra money to buy the iPad or e-reader with 3G.

Find free ebooks

With the iPhone you can find and start reading free ebooks without the need to switch to the computer.

There are generally two ways to do that:

  • Pick up an app that offers an in-app directory of free ebooks
  • Use Safari to browse sites with free ebooks, and add the title from url

There are a couple of applications which offer catalogs of free ebooks, but I’m not a fan of this option. Apps that offer 30,000+ free ebooks are usually paid ones, and they get their catalogs from Project Gutenberg which is a major source of free ebooks on the web. If I can get a free ebook from a Project Gutenberg directly to the iPhone, why should I use a paid app?

Instead I’d recommend to pick up a default e-reading application, decide whether it should be Kindle or Google Play Books, and side-load free ebooks there.

Download free books from Project Gutenberg and Feedbooks via iPhone Safari

Sources of free ebooks, just like Amazon and B&N, offer mobile interface. The sites that are worth checking out are Project Gutenberg ( and Feedbooks ( Tap url address in Safari and you’ll be ready to browse free public domain ebooks.

If you want to add free ebooks to your Kindle app, you can browse the sites mentioned above, but you can also find titles that currently went free in the Kindle Store.

Go to Amazon Kindle storefront in Safari or and tap in a search box: free kindle books. Amazon search engine will automatically redirect you to a section of Kindle Store that lists only free titles.

By default you’ll have the titles sorted by “relevance”, but you can get much more interesting titles if you pick up “new and popular”.

Drafts - finding free Kindle books - screenshot 2

Translate text while reading

Obviously, most e-reading apps offer in-app dictionary or a dictionary look-up in a web browser built into the app. But what about translations?

Ebooks would become much more popular in non-English speaking countries if there were enough mother-language books available. For the time being many users from outside US can find their favorite titles only in English.

Therefore, having an option to quickly translate a word in an e-reading app is more than welcomed.

So far there are two apps I know of that offer in-app translation. It’s Google Play Books and eBookMobi.

Translate-in-Google-Play-BooksIf you use Google Play Books, translations are performed in two taps, and you can not only translate single words, but entire paragraphs.

The feature is so convenient that after Google launched Play Books in Poland I almost completely stopped using Kindle for iOS, my previous default e-reading iPhone app.

Google Play Books is not ideal, however. It’s available in only 30 countries, and to use a translation you have to be connected to the internet.

If you are not into Google Play Books, you can still translate single words in any e-reading app that offers Google look-up. There are two steps to get a translation:

  1. Highlight the word and tap on Google (or Google reference, or Google lookup) in a pop-up window.
  2. The in-app web browser will open with a Google search result page of the word you’re looking for. Now, in a search box add two words that tell Google to find a translation. If you want to translate the word to Polish, simply tap “to Polish” (see screenshot below). Find a more detailed explanation in this post.

Quick translation in Kindle app - picture 3

To me, instant translation is one of the most important features that could remove language barriers and popularize e-reading (and reading in general) across the world.

Add book sources to your news app

A lot more iPhone users read news via RSS feed apps rather than read books. Apps like Feedly or Flipboard can be a great way to discover new ebooks to read.

Getting books to the daily source of news is a good way to keep in touch with book reading. What’s more, you’ll make sure you won’t miss any great book to read.

You can add book sources to a news application as long as they offer RSS feed. I recommend two major sources:

1. Project Gutenberg

The site offers a feed with new and updated titles. Up to 10-15 new books are added to the feed each day.

2. Kindle Store

Amazon offers feeds for almost any category in its web store. Kindle Store bestsellers are listed in several categories, and each one has its own feed.

Popular Kindle Store feeds:


The feeds from Kindle Store are specific. They are updated a couple of times a day, and one title can enter the feed several times.

This is due to the fact that Amazon feed lists top 10 titles in every category, so if the item is out and then in again, it appears in the feed for the second time. Also, the titles are not shown in the order of appearance, but by their rank in Kindle Store.
You can also get to your news reading apps daily deals for Kindle Store and B&N Nook Store:

• • •

You may say that reading an article from a news feed is different from reading a book, because there is a huge difference in the amount of time we need to finish. “I can finish an article in one go”, you may say. But can you finish a novel in one go? Probably not.

We read in chunks. Kindle lets read ebooks in longer chunks than the iPhone, that’s for sure. But how much free time do you have a day to read a book? Is it three or four hours or maybe is it half an hour here and half an hour there?

Interested in getting more posts like this? Please subscribe by RSS or email. Let’s also connect on Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, the Kindle app for iPhone and iPad gets the automatic theme switcher
– April 24, 2021

Enjoy more books with this great book-reading assistant
– November 21, 2020

A perfect audiobook app – what features should it offer?
– September 3, 2020

You can now permanently delete Kindle books directly in your iPad app
– August 30, 2020

One Kindle feature Apple should implement in the iPad and iPhone
– August 26, 2020